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Upper Arkansas will try a nominating board

Brief by Central Staff

Water Districts – April 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

Despite some plans and initial petition work, there won’t be a director election in the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, even though three terms expire this year. However, it’s likely there will be an election for three seats of the four seats whose terms are expiring in the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

Water conservancy district directors (each typically represents a geographic division, although some can be at-large) are normally appointed by district judges. But it is possible to petition for an election by getting signatures of at least 10% of the registered voters within the division.

The Upper Arkansas District comprises Chaffee, Custer, and western Frémont counties, and it held an election last year for its Division 3, which has the same boundaries as the Buena Vista school district.

The petitions were circulated by Citizens for Water Integrity, and Mark Emmer of Salida is one of the main movers in that group.

“At the start of the year, we were preparing to circulate petitions for the three expiring terms,” he said, “but it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. And so we talked with the water district about going about this in some other way.”

What evolved was an agreement between the citizens and the district. Each of the three counties will appoint one county commissioner to a nominating board, which will interview people who want to be directors, and that board will make recommendations to District Judge John Anderson, who makes the appointments. Anderson has agreed to this process.

“In a democratic sense, I think there should be elections,” Emmer said, “but in a practical sense, it’s difficult to make one happen. This should provide for more public participation in the water district, and we’re willing to try it for a couple of years.”

Terry Scanga, district general manager, said he shared Emmer’s hope that this would improve public participation without the expense of an election. “This way the recommendations will be coming from elected officials, anyway, and so there will be some political accountability,” he said.

The three Upper Arkansas terms which will end on July 1, and the incumbents, are Division 2, Salida school district, Wendell Hutchinson; Division 3, Buena Vista school district, Frank McMurry; and Division 4, Custer County, Robert Donley.

Any resident of those areas interested in becoming a director can pick up an application at the district office, or get one mailed by calling 719-539-5425.

In the Upper Gunnison, elections are likely for three of the four seats whose terms end on June 24, according to Steve Schechter of rural Gunnison, who identifies himself as “a local rabble-rouser.”

Schechter, who coördinates the petitions for High Country Citizens Alliance, said he should have enough signatures for elections in two seats from the City of Gunnison, now held by Ruth Willey and Dennis Steckel, and one from West Gunnison, held by Jim Cochran.

The other seat is Ohio Creek, held by William Trampe, “and people there just don’t seem interested in signing petitions for an election,” Schechter said.

This is the third election in the Upper Gunnison; they were held in 1999 and 2000, but not 2001 because no terms expired then, so it’s becoming something of a routine. “The last I heard,” Schechter said, “the board was talking about having the terms expire in November, rather than in June, so that district elections could be held along with the regular elections.”